Defending Against the Inaccurate (and sometimes downright false)

Each year, as the rainy season returns to Oregon, so too does another all-too-predictable event: new claims of abuse leveled against my employer the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Nearly every fall, a small animal rights organization called Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) fuels their yearly “National Primate Liberation Week” with alarming press releases accusing my institution and others of abuse.

This of course would be understandable and acceptable if the facts were indeed true. However, in my decade of working at one the country’s eight national primate centers, I’ve learned that most SAEN claims are based on misunderstandings or misstatements. Their goal: to cause anger and hatred of scientists attempting to end suffering for both humans and animals.

SAEN’s most memorable headlines over the past few years include:

In 2010: “Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty”

In 2003: “Research Labs Under Reported Primate Use, Broke Law, Says National Watchdog Group”

and perhaps the most alarming:

In 2004: “’Epidemic’ Sweeping Oregon Primate Center, Hundreds of Infant Monkeys Dead, Charges Watchdog Group”

Any person with a pulse will certainly react to such news with anger and disgust. The problem however, is that none of these claims are true.

Just last week, SAEN accused Oregon’s primate center of depriving monkeys of food and water, allowing animals to live in uncleaned cages and forcing animals to live in housing that was too small. Here’s the release: Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty. (SAEN release Oct 19)

SAEN said that federal documents prove their case. So do they? We’ve posted them online and as you can see for yourself…the allegations and the truth hold little resemblance:

SAEN Claim: Animals were deprived of food

What the records show: In one study animals would not receive fruit or vegetables for a short period because they were receiving these vitamins in another form. In another health diet study, animals were given a smaller portion of food. In a third case, animals underwent temporary change in feeding schedules so animals could be trained.  Food was provided after daily training. Clearly SAEN’s claims of starving animals are inaccurate.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in dirty cages

What the records show: Cage washing was delayed for one day because it would have interfered with the research study. In another case, the cage washing was delayed briefly to limit stress for the animals.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in housing that was too small.

What the records show: Monkeys were temporarily placed in a slightly smaller group housing to better encourage socialization.

While reasonable people can debate what is truth and what is a lie, few can deny that at best, SAEN’s allegations are a gross exaggeration of the facts.

As for our previous experiences in responding to SAEN’s inaccurate claims:

In 2003, SAEN claimed that the Oregon primate center was lying about the number of animals in its care. Read the claims for yourself.

Again, not true.

SAEN leveled this claim by juxtaposing two reports to two separate federal agencies. One report contained in the NIH Annual Report lists all animals at the Oregon primate center. The other report, the USDA Annual Report of Research Facility lists all animals involved in research. Because a large number of our animals live outdoors in one-acre breeding habitats (meaning they are not used in research), these two reports clearly measure two entirely different things.

Of course SAEN’s allegation of fraud is very serious, but in this case it was based on either a complete misunderstanding, or a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts

In 2004 SAEN leveled its most incredible charge. That year, SAEN reported that an epidemic had killed almost 400 monkeys at the Oregon primate center.

How did this happen?

The simple answer: It didn’t.

SAEN based this claim on an annual census report provided to the National Institutes of Health annually.

Here’s the report belowIn making it’s claim, SAEN pointed to column 5 of the report – a reduction of 394 infants that year. So where did these animals go? See the additions just two columns to the left. 304 of these animals became adults. The rest were temporary transfers to other locations in and outside of the center and as for SAEN’s epidemic, it never occurred.

So when SAEN is made aware of their errors are they quick to set the record straight? Based on the fact that all of this information remains posted on their Web site – clearly not.

Of Course Oregon’s primate center is not alone in combating SAEN’s frequently inaccurate claims.

Speaking of Research has written about this issue on many previous occasions.

So why are these many untrue allegations such a serious issue for health research institutions such as ours? Because, many times these unverified claims are reported as fact meaning that those who wish to mislead the public are often quite successful. We should all be disturbed when the media reports only one side of the issue and places the burden of proof solely on health researchers.  The validity of claims made by organizations such as SAEN deserves the same sort of skepticism and study as our responses.

So, who will pay the ultimate price for all of this inaccuracy? Everyone.  Every single person on the earth has benefited from animal studies. Thanks to animal-based research, we have vaccines, medications and new surgical approaches. But despite these successes, SAEN and others want us to reject this important method for treating disease by repeatedly bombarding the public with inaccurate claims of abuse.

Hopefully Speaking of Research and can continue to shed light on the matter and convince Americans to wait for both sides of the story before making judgment. In the meantime, we’ll start preparing for SAEN’s next press release.

Jim Newman

One response to “Defending Against the Inaccurate (and sometimes downright false)

  1. Denis Alexander

    One question in inaccurate reporting if it was an honest mistake or intentionality. I think the analysis here demonstrates that Mr. Budkie intentionally lies to the public. Lies are lies and should be called for what they are.